In a previous post, I wrote about open theism as it relates to its approach to evil in a post titled, “Open Theism and Evil” where I demonstrated how open theism fails to Biblically reconcile the existence of evil with the sovereignty of God in a way that doesn’t leave the Bible looking beaten and mangled. Sound exegesis is an absolute requirement when attempting to formulate reliable theological conclusions. This is what I’m finding to be extraordinarily absent in the open approach to Christian theism. Over the years, I’ve been drawn closer to this topic of open theism because of a close friend who finds open theism to be appealing and we’ve had many spirited (in a good way) discussions about it. These discussions have influenced many hours of study to further examine my views on open theism but after all of my efforts, I continue to find open theism to be theologically bankrupt and unsatisfying.
Due to my interest in examining open theism with greater detail, I plan on writing more about why I feel open theism theologically fails to properly account for scripture as it was originally intended to be interpreted. Above is a video of Greg Boyd, a popular advocate for open theism, providing a brief summary of open theism and an explanation of why he finds it to be convincing. Boyd answers three questions, “What is Open Theism?”, “How is this relevant today?”, and “How does this help the believer?” Along with providing the video, I’ve included a transcript of Boyd’s answers to these questions so that I can highlight the concerns I have and attempt to address these concerns with sound Biblical explanations and reasoning.
What is Open Theism?
“In a nutshell, I usually describe it as simply the belief that possibilities are real. It really comes down to that. And that God who is omniscient, knows all things, knows possibilities are real. Like he knows and elephant is an elephant, a monkey is a monkey, an actuality is an actuality, and a possibility is a possibility….
It conflicts with the classical view which held that….before God created the world that all facts are settled…Every fact of human history was resolved before the world was ever created from all eternity. The classical view would debate whether God resolved it by willing it and that’s the more Calvinist perspective or whether God simply knew it was resolved and that’s the more Armenian perspective but either way all facts were resolved. Open theists simply believe that when God created the world, He created it with possibilities. Unresolved possibilities and to the degree the world consists of unresolved possibilities then the fact that God knows is that it may go this way or that way. So it’s the belief that possibilities are real. God created a world in which the future is to some degree open. Open to possibilities.”
I agree with Boyd, possibilities are real. Also, I agree God is omniscient and He also knows that possibilities exist. However, it appears that Boyd and I disagree on the proper definition of ‘omniscience’ as it concerns the nature of God. Those in the Molinist, Calvinist, and Arminian camp would generally describe omniscience as having comprehensive knowledge of all truth, which includes truth of the past, present, and future. The open theist differs in this regard by redefining omniscience to exclude comprehensive knowledge of the future. In Letters from a Skeptic, Greg Boyd writes about his definition of God’s omniscience,
“In the Christian view God knows all reality—everything there is to know. But, to assume He knows ahead of time how every person is going to freely act assumes that each person’s free activity is already there to know—even before he freely does it! But it’s not. If we have been given freedom, we create the reality of our decisions by making them. And until we make them, they don’t exist. Thus, in my view at least, there simply isn’t anything to know until we make it there to know. So God can’t foreknow the good or bad decisions of the people He creates until He creates these people and they, in turn, create their decisions” (p. 30)
Also, William Hasker, another advocate for open theism, describes God’s omniscience in the following way in his book “Search for an Adequate God: A Dialogue between Process and Free Will Theists”,
“Since the future is genuinely open, since it is possible for a free agent to act in any of several different ways, it follows that it is not possible for God to have complete and exhaustive knowledge of the entire future” (p. 218)
The open theistic approach is unique in this regard. William Lane Craig, in his article, “Perils of the Open Road”, describes the position that is generally held by most other Christians as far as God’s foreknowledge that open theists generally reject,
“God’s foreknowledge, we believe, does not annul what would otherwise have been a free action, and denying foreknowledge does not secure for foreknown actions a freedom that was not otherwise in jeopardy”
Also, William Lane Craig makes a critical objection to open theism in “Four Views on Divine Providence” when responding to Greg Boyd’s description of open theism,
“One curious feature of Boyd’s view is that the God of open theism knows the truth counterfactuals of divine freedom concerning what he would do in any circumstances, but not counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. Boyd insists that God knows each and every story line as if it were a certainty. But he does not take God’s freedom to be thereby obviated. If knowing what he would freely do in any set of circumstances is consistent with God’s freedom, it is hard to see why his knowing what we would freely do in any circumstances is inconsistent with our freedom” (p. 229)
While much more can be said in addition to what I’ve briefly summarized above, we must keep in mind that if open theism claims that foreknowledge is incompatible with freewill, then the burden is on them to provide a solid hermeneutic of the scripture as a whole to make sense of that position.
How is this relevant today?
“I think the reason why it’s catching on more now and why I don’t think it’s just going to fade away is because now, I mean, people have argued on the basis of scripture going back as far as you want but what’s happening now is that up to this point the world has been much more conducive to a deterministic view than an open view. Now however, everything is changing. We are in a new day; science is much more open to openness stuff. Categories of science are not the rigid ones that we got from the Newtonian worldview. So the ultimate gestalt of the world, at least the Western world, is changing in a way that I think is more conducive to the Biblical worldview than the deterministic view ever was but for that reason the open view has a lot going for it now”.
General scientific advances are not reliable indicators of one’s Biblical literacy. The Newtonian worldview is irrelevant for purposes of attaining theological truths. In addition, Newton’s Laws have been replaced by quantum mechanics and relativity so they’re even irrelevant in science to a certain degree. So, if science has made people “more open to openness stuff” and science is not the proper vehicle to attaining theological truths, what reason should we believe that open theism is relevant today from a theological perspective if the only reason it’s allegedly relevant is because of Newton’s scientific laws (which are scientifically irrelevant)? I’m utterly confused by his answer.
How does this help the believer?
“I think the open view has a lot of cash value when it comes to the life of the believer. The open view really encourages people to take responsibility for your life. The open view says that whether you pray or not, things really hang on it. The future is not in any sense pre-settled. We are really co-creators with God. Now, I want to be careful, I’m not saying that we’re little gods or something like that but God really empowers us to partner with Him to bring about the creation that He wants. Our choices really make a difference. There are things that really are at stake in what we do. That is at once an ominous thing (i.e. whoa…things matter) but it is also what gives our lives significance. Our lives really do make a difference. They really do count. Your prayers really do matter. You’re important to the kingdom. So, God needs you. Stand up. Live passionately. Give it all you got and get in the kingdom, get in the game, and do what you’re called to do.”
To be perfectly candid, I feel that Boyd is overly concerned with emphasizing the alleged benefits of open theism at the expense of sacrificing an accurate reading of scripture. This particular question was posed to highlight how open theism can ‘help’ the believer, but does Boyd’s answer serve to satisfy the question or does it serve to illustrate further that open theism neither helps the believer or stays true to the message of scripture? After watching the video and reading the transcript, I feel the latter is a more accurate representation of Boyd’s answer. While it may sound like I’m being a bit harsh, let me explain why I don’t feel Boyd’s answer does the Bible or the believer justice.
Boyd stated, “The future is not in any sense pre-settled. We are really co-creators with God”. While Boyd clarified his stance with an supplementary remark, “I’m not saying that we’re little gods or something like that but God really empowers us to partner with Him to bring about the creation that He wants”, he seems to feel strongly that “God needs you” and that without us being “empowered” by Him while “partnering” together, He couldn’t “bring about the creation that He wants.” Boyd’s answer is grossly conjectural at best and unbiblical at worst. No scripture is provided in support of his claim that the future is not “in any sense pre-settled.” Given the amount of scripture outlining the vast amount of foreknowledge vividly described in the Bible, more than I have space to list in this article, how can Boyd make such a claim when attempting to convince a Christian that this is a system that has a lot of “cash value”?
Boyd’s claim that we are somehow “co-creators” with God is preposterous, even after considering his editing remark. The idea that God can be contingent upon His creation in any way to achieve His desired ends is not defended in the scriptures. Boyd’s book on open theism, God of the Possible, does not address this comment to any meaningful degree that would help me better understand what he truly means and what scriptural support he is using to justify this comment specifically. If I were to take a stab at what he is attempting to communicate, I would say that our free choices create possibilities for God to work with. Assuming that I conjectured correctly, does scripture mention that God does not have foreknowledge? Clearly not.
Below are ten scriptures (which is a tremendously small fraction compared to the total that exist) that unambiguously affirm divine foreknowledge/omniscience that are difficult for the open theist to reconcile with an alternative hermeneutic that doesn’t absolutely destroy the integrity of the scripture:
“1 You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
5 You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.” (Psalms 139:1-6)
…we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. (1 John 3:20)
21 You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?” 22 If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed. (Deuteronomy 18:21-22)
See, the former things have taken place,
and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
I announce them to you.” (Isa. 42:9)
Declare what is to be, present it—
let them take counsel together.
Who foretold this long ago,
who declared it from the distant past?
Was it not I, the Lord?
And there is no God apart from me,
a righteous God and a Savior;
there is none but me. (Isa. 45:21)
I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, ‘My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please.’ (Isa. 46:10)
I foretold the former things long ago,
my mouth announced them and I made them known;
then suddenly I acted, and they came to pass.
4 For I knew how stubborn you were;
your neck muscles were iron,
your forehead was bronze.
5 Therefore I told you these things long ago;
before they happened I announced them to you
so that you could not say,
‘My images brought them about;
my wooden image and metal god ordained them.’
6 You have heard these things; look at them all.
Will you not admit them?
“From now on I will tell you of new things,
of hidden things unknown to you.
7 They are created now, and not long ago;
you have not heard of them before today.
So you cannot say,
‘Yes, I knew of them.’ (Isa. 48:3-7)
28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. (Acts 4:28)
9 He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time (2 Timothy 1:9)
20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. (1 Peter 1:20)
In my list above, I didn’t include prophesies from the Old Testament concerning Jesus Christ. Also, I didn’t include the numerous predictions Jesus made during his ministry. There are many others that I could have chosen but didn’t due to space limitations. I hope these scriptures serve to illustrate that God is not a ‘co-creator’ and the notion to classify God in such way is simply a foolish attempt to elevate oneself closer to godhood.
None of my critiques were motivated by a personal dislike for Greg Boyd or others who share the same theological persuasions. While I strongly believe that open theism is heterodoxical (i.e. unorthodox but fall short of heresy) and wrong minded, I do ultimately feel that being an open theist is a secondary issue as far as salvation is concerned. I have great respect for Boyd’s dedication to the historicity of Christ’s resurrection. He has also been a valuable resource for understanding open theism in much greater depth. I can trust that Boyd is representing open theism in a way that is credible and consistent with the true tenets of open theology. There is much to be learned from Greg Boyd as a scholar and theologian, even though his ideas are largely unorthodox in certain respects.
While I don’t find open theism convincing from a Biblical worldview, I still wholeheartedly believe that this matter is worth discussing. Whether we are discussing Calvinism, Arminianism, Molinism, or Open Theism, we are deepening our understanding of Christian theology when we examine each of these approaches to sovereignty/freewill. By no means should we discard open theism because it sounds unfamiliar to what we’re traditionally accustomed, which is generally Calvinism or Arminianism. Let’s be charitable with our brothers and sisters who hold open views and substantively and respectfully engage in discussion. I have a couple buddies who lean very strongly towards open theism and our discussions have always lead to a very substantive examination of each other’s viewpoints in an edifying way. Iron sharpens iron!
Lastly, let the Bible be your guide…ALWAYS! Theological matters must be filtered through the Bible using exegetical practices that take the entire context into account in a way that results in the best understanding of scripture. In my opinion, this is the Achilles heel of open theism. Scripture may indeed be the biggest stumbling block for open theists who desire to remain loyal to the scriptures in a credible way. In the end however, it’s important to pray that in our studies our hearts and minds will glorify God and that our relationship with Him will be strengthened and our recognition of His majesty will motivate us to desire to be more aligned with Him and His will.
I had to add the following video because it is absolutely hilarious. It’s obviously produced by an open theist but I can appreciate the humor in it! Enjoy!